Top Pops – July 19, 1969
by Tony Norman
LIKE A LOT of people, it took me a long time to appreciate Family. I remember interviewing them last Summer and paying little attention to an album “Music In A Doll’s House” which I was given to help me write the feature. But, I heard snatches of that record and a superb collection called “Family Entertainment” which surprised a lot of people by crashing into the National album charts. I was beginning to take an interest and, after seeing them three times in six days recently, you could say I have been converted.
It was a warm evening in Middlesbrough and John Halsall and I had just finished an evening meal at our hotel. I dabbed the last beads of black coffee away from my moustache and lit a cigarette.
There wasn’t much else to do or was there? John decided to phone the Showboat Club and the manager asked us to come along. I was expecting the smooth night club scene – you know, all white dives, corny jokes and ballad singers. How wrong can you be? Family were topping the bill!
Their music is just that – their very own. I can’t really describe it and anyway
I’d rather you listened to them because I would like you to see what you think. If, like me, your excitement is within the confines of a highly musical wall of sound, then you’ll probably like them. Apologies to all those who have seen them, for saying what you already know. The point is that there are still too many people missing out.
However, it seems that at last Family are getting the kind of gigs they deserve. They shared one night of the Pop Proms at the Royal Albert Hall with The Incredible String Band and three days later entertained the 85 million, or whatever, fans who turned up for the Stones concert in Hyde Park. Two very nice venues and, although they were . possibly not fully at ease at the Proms, they satisfied their audiences with songs like “Observations From A Hill” and “The Weaver’s Answer.”
So it was decided that the widely read and greatly respected Anthony Norman spread – sounds like some kind of sickly jam doesn’t it? – should be dedicated this week to a group I really have a lot of time for. The strange thing was that when I met Roger Chapman, the lead singer who sometimes sounds like a switched on Larry The Lamb, he annoyed me. I got so deeply involved in our conversation that I lost all track of time and missed a lunch date with a rather lovely young lady. Still, Roger is that kind of person. You feel you could talk to him forever and still come back for more. Actually, that doesn’t make sense, but you know what I mean.
As I write Family are planning to play a free concert at the Grimsby South Bank Jazz Club. I have a feeling this will mean more to Roger than the Hyde Park show, despite the fact that they will only be playing to a fraction of that vast audience.
“The Club was formed about ten years ago,” Roger explained. “As you know, Grimsby is pretty dead, but some of the young people deeided they wanted to play and listen to jazz so they founded the club. They started playing just for the sheer pleasure it gave them and held. a few dances. They never made a profit out of it because all the money went back into the club. After all this the same people are still running it, but they are losing money and the building is going to be demolished in less fhan a year, which is sad. So we’re doing a free con:cert there to help them out because we have always enjoyed playing there.
“I respect people who do things like that and they gave all the young people in Grimsby a place where they could go and just enjoy good music. That kind of thing is like the youth club scene where the kids should be left alone to look after themselves.”
Family have not been involved with many of the Free Concerts this Summer, except for the one they would have been mad to turn down. This seemed strange to me because I thought Roger might approve of the overall concept of free entertainment.
“I’m a little biased about Free Concerts because a lot of the time it seems to me that there is some misty reason behind them. Perhaps I’m too suspicious and they are done in good faith; They are a very good thing for young groups, but I get the impression that many of the bigger bands are doing it for their own ego. The concept of free show should be: ‘Let’s have a groove and blow.’ But when you get there everybody is trying to impress.
“I read about one concert where the crowd jeered a band – that really did me in. They shouldn’t do that, they really shouldn’t. Still, I like the idea of being in the open air and things, that’s nice. It’s a thing I think about a lot. In this business there are so many big time hustlers that you start to think and wonder about everything, which is a drag. Only people trying to take groups or people for a ride made me think about that.”
Perhaps that’s why the people in Grimsby who nm the jazz club impressed him so much. They can afford to; just do things for the sheer pleasure they get from their music. Roger knows Family can’t be like that, although they would like to. The thought of the big-time guys in the British pop scene always makes me laugh. I wonder how long they would survive, let alone thrive, in a city like New York where the pace in really hot. Roger confirmed that the hustlers might find it tough there, but he found the whole thing fascinating when the group toured the States earlier in the year.
“The first week in New York I hated it,” he said, “but then I got used to the life. When you get there you see why Britain is reserved in their eyes. Life is so fast and London is like a village in comparison. Everyone is after a dollar and they have no time for anyone. I just accepted that as being their way of life.”
It was during the Stateside tour that Ric Grec left Family to join Blind Faith. Apparently he couldn’t give the rest of the band too much notice that he was going to quit, but Roger made sure that I didn’t get things twisted. This was an amicable split, he assured me. Obviously it was a sad occasion and Roger explained his feelings.
“As a group, the five of us when Ric was with us, we were a small town band who had grown up together. Our concept as a group had always been to play what we liked. We have never tried to play the music we thought would be easily accepted. We all had many influences – classical music, blues, rock, and we never felt we should ever label anything because it was all music to us. We could mix classical music with rock without anyone saying: ‘Man, you can’t do that.’ There’s good and bad in everything, in all forms of music. There’s no musical leader of the group and now John Weider is one of us and he knows we will respect him and he respects us.
“Ric started grooving on different things and so the best thing to do was to say: ‘O.K.Rick, good luck’ and go our separate ways. If he had stayed with us, instead of joining . Blind Faith, he would only have hung us up one way or another, and hung himself up. It was all tied in with the sense of freedom we’ve always had – Rick was free to do what he wanted.
“We are happy because John Weider is a great musician. It’s incredible the way he has fitted in with the rest of us. I mean you think we have virtually grown up together in the group and know each other inside out. We even have our own mad sense of humour.
“We wondered if anyone would fit in easily. Well, John came over from L.A. where he had been doing some session work after playing with the Animals for a while. I think I must have been small-minded because we’ve found a guy who fjtted in like he’d always been there – even down to the humour! I still can’t believe it. Peter Grant, who was managing us in the States, got John over to Detroit after Ric left. He is a lead guitarist so playing bass for us must have seemed strange, but it was a gas. We thought we were struck, but now we can move in different directions.”
The band only had time for a couple of rehearsals in New York before they played their first gig without Ric. Things went better than expected and a gig in Boston shortly after gave them the boost they all needed. “We came off and felt it was a good show,” said Roger. “I never thought rd be that pleased with a gig so quickly. Even now we are still finding our feet musically
and working on new ideas, but Boston showed it was there.
“The drag was asking John to play things that had nothing to do with him. Now we are working on new things. I was very sad when I heard that Ric was going because we were close friends. I lost confidence but now I have regained it and I have gained another good friend in John.
“When you have something as free as music, you shouldn’t let it interfere with or ruin friendships.”
Roger firm1y believes that the freedom of music as an art form is directly connected with the freedom of thought which is spreading through the minds of young people across the world.
“Society itself creates boundaries, the wrong boundaries. I’m not saying everything in our society is wrong, that would be ridiculous, but I don’t know how certain people can turn round and say they are definitely right, without even listening to other opinions. That really is bad.
“That’s why music is the centre of the revolution that is taking place. It is bound to because it is such an open thing and it is universally accepted – more so than painting or poetry. Young kids are scared of those things because they have never been lead to understand them. They think they have to learn about poetry before they can enjoy it. But music is just a feeling – if you feel good, the music is good. I am starting to take an interest in art and I have never been taught. That’s good because I don’t look for technicalities, I look for what I like.
“I can understand some things, but if I can’t, I don’t put them down. Music is the Easiest way to get through to people, in the hope that this will laad them to take .an interest in all forms of art. Maybe then they will get the same free way of thinking as the artists who painted the pictures. “I think a lot of young people feel they are hitting against a brick wall – people just won’t admit there is anything wrong with the world. I know how the kids feel because I come up against a similar feeling of frustration on stage. I really dig singing, but I always felt I would like to play an instrument. I use a guitar when I am writing songs, but never on stage. In the solos I just don’t know what to do.
“I get pretty involved with the music, which is a great thing, and often don’t remember what I have done during the act. Once I fell off the stage and didn’t remember a thing about it until someone mentioned it in the dressing room about an hour later.”
Possibly it is this frustration Which makes Roger so fascinating on stage. During the solos an agonized expression of extreme concentration crosses his face. He is feeling the music but, while either John Whitney on guitar, Jim King on sax, Rob Townsend on drums or John Weider on violin is taking a solo, he is an outsider. He resents this and sends a mike crashing to the floor to express his frustration, or kicks a mike stand, or boots over an amplifier. Then he breaks into a frenzied dance, eyes firmly shut, sweat running down his face. He might feel he’s on the outside, but he is so very wrong.
In early August Family start recording tracks for their third album. It is reasonable to suppose that this will be worth listening to because their first two departures into the mystical world of recording were acclaimed by the critics and criticised by the acclaimed.
“We weren’t completely satisfied with either of the albums, “Roger said. “We never really felt we captured what we were doing on stage. We are a lot freer on stage and although ‘Family Entertainment’ was better, it still wasn’t right. We weren’t really expecting the success it got.”
Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom in music, these are things Roger firmly believes in. They won’t shy away from releasing singles because they want to appeal to as many people as possible. Roger respects people like Engelbert because he believes he is probably a sincere person and is doing what he want to do. He doesn’t like that sort of music, but he respects its right to be there.
“The young people who put Engelbert and Tom Jones in a bag and put them down are creating their own society, which is as bad as that one they are rebelling against. They are defeating their own aim for freedom. I don’t want anybody to tell me what to think because I think I am intelligent enough to think for myself.”
O.K. so the best thing I can say is pleas listen to Family soon and make up your own mind. If you are already listening, I hope you are enjoying the albums as much as I am. That all sounds pretentious, but I do mean it.
ROGER SUMMED UP FAMILY’S ATTITUDE TO THEIR MUSIC WHEN HE SAID: ‘WHEN IT STOPS BEING FREE, THAT’S WHEN IT WILL COLLAPSE.”